Guidelines for Comprehensive School Reform

Improving education requires a comprehensive approach to school reform. This overview describes the context of school reform efforts and outlines the steps necessary to implement such reform.

As the American public demands better public schools, states and districts have responded by setting high standards and assessing student achievement. While this type of reform provides school staff and the public with more data, the data alone cannot improve student performance. Schools and districts need sustained support that is focused on proven practices and quality professional development, resulting in improved student learning.

A key challenge for schools and districts is to move away from the perennial pursuit of the "silver bullet" solution towards a more thoughtful, well-informed, and sustained process that includes planning, implementation, and continuous improvement. These guidelines should be used as part of a school improvement process. This school improvement process should include, but not be limited to, the following:

  1. Conduct a needs assessment
  2. Develop a data-driven process focused on identifying a school's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges.

  3. Set benchmarks and goals
  4. Establish a clear set of ambitious and measurable goals for school faculty, students, and the broader school community.

  5. Research assistance providers
  6. Ensure that providers' offerings meet the needs of the school community and that providers have demonstrated results.

  7. Select a school design
  8. Undergo a deliberate and school-wide process to reach consensus on a unifying vision and focus for the school community.

  9. Implement a continuous improvement focus
  10. Develop a staged and organized implementation of the school-wide improvement process, using an external assistance provider (if necessary).

  11. Demonstrate public accountability for results
  12. Make a commitment to engage the community in a long-term dialogue focused on helping all students achieve at high levels.

Excerpted from: Guidelines for Ensuring the Quality of National Design-Based Assistance Providers, Introduction. (December, 2000). New American Schools. Full text of the Guidelines available at


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